By Karen Billing
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week, taking the lives of 20 children and six adults, stunned and shook the entire nation. Locally, Katrina Graupmann, Del Mar Classified Teachers Association president, said teachers were hit especially hard by the events of Friday, Dec. 14, and it was impossible to look into the eyes of their students and not think about it.
“More parents than normal came to pick up their students on Friday and more fathers were there at drop-off on Monday morning,” Graupmann said.
Del Mar Union School District President Doug Rafner said he was one of those dads on Friday afternoon, waiting behind the gate at Ashley Falls School to pick up his children. He said he was never more thankful that the district had spent the money last year to install gates and fences at most of the district campuses.
“We know that student safety is out highest priority,” said Superintendent Holly McClurg. “When parents drop off their children in the morning they are trusting us with a huge responsibility. We accept that responsibility as if they’re our own children. It’s our highest priority that children feel safe and well taken care of.”
In response to Friday’s devastating event, Rafner requested, prior to the Dec. 19 Del Mar school board meeting, that they place a discussion on safety on the Dec. 19 agenda. At the meeting, direction was given to district staff to undergo a safety evaluation by an independent safety expert.
Trustee Kristin Gibson has a unique connection as she lived in Newtown and attended Sandy Hook for second and third grade — she said her parents moved her family moved from Brooklyn to the “idyllic” place to raise their children.
“It’s incredibly surreal and personal to me,” said Gibson of the tragedy.
She asked that the board send a letter of condolence to the Sandy Hook district’s board.
McClurg said she received 10 emails from parents in response to the shooting, concerning reassurance for children, district communication and the lack of fencing at Del Mar Heights Elementary School.
McClurg said since Friday, the district’s cabinet group has met, as well as all of the school site principals, to go over the “sound measures” they have in place. They have generated some ideas to make campuses even safer and plan to move forward with those recommendations.
Staff also frequently holds lock down drills, fire drills and “duck, cover, hold” drills to prepare schools for emergencies.
While the district did invest last year on safety gates and fences, the only school that does not have a completed fence is Del Mar Heights.
Director of Maintenance Randy Wheaton said that they ran into some issues completing the fencing work due to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues, but he has already met with an architect this week on the process of finishing the front piece of fencing at the Heights.
Additionally, one parent sent a memo that the Ready Springs Elementary School District had sent out to parents regarding the safe storage of firearms and a reminder about the California Penal Code’s position that parents who own firearms are legally responsible to keep them locked and away from children. The parent had requested that a letter written by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence with the same reminder about storage and legal responsibilities be sent to district parents.
Graupmann noted that as the district thinks about budget cuts, they should remember that the more staff on campus, the safer the children are.
“At our big schools, we need vice principals,” Graupmann said. “You can’t put a price on safety and you can’t put a price on a well-run school.”
At the meeting, board trustee Alan Kholos was wearing a green ribbon for Sandy Hook that his company is selling to raise funds for the Parent Connection in Newtown. For more information, or to donate, visit newtownparentconnection.org.